Many years ago my mother had heart surgery. The procedure was relatively new then. I flew in to be with her before and during the surgery. I left behind a chronically ill husband and two young children. I would spend all day at the hospital with my mother and then come back to her apartment and start dealing with the phone calls.
Was I sure my mother had the right doctor?
Maybe I should get a second opinion?
Was everything being done for her that could be?
Were there alternative procedures that could be put in place?
Did I really want her to do this?
Between the messages on the answering machine and the beep of call waiting, I spent my evenings fielding questions from concerned relatives and friends that sounded like insults, retelling the same doctor reports and reporting on her condition and the events of the day over and over again to each person who called. Then, once the incessant calls stopped and the answering machine was empty of messages to return, I could call home and check up on my family. Finally, long after midnight I could go to bed and start the routine all over again the next day.
Today, with computers in many homes, the whole scenario can be quite different. By simply opening a website, you can update family and friends on a sick person’s condition by writing it at your site, once, and allowing people to log on for an update on that person’s condition. No need to answer phone messages and incessantly repeat the day’s events. Anyone wanting to know the latest can simply log on and you can update the daily progress.
If people want to be supportive or give you ideas, they can type it into the website. In this way, you can, if desired, explore the comments and suggestions on your terms, when you are feeling up to it. You can keep the supportive messages if they are helpful. You can log into them when the day is bad and some support is needed. If people want to share their ideas on care with you, you can use the computer in the same manner. Scan what people have written, when you are up to it.
Save what you may want to investigate further. It is there for you to go back to when you have the strength to do it. And as far as the inappropriate comments, insulting suggestions and challenges, they are gone with the press of the delete button. How I would have loved to have a delete button in those years before computers. But, they are here now and caregivers need to use them to their advantage.
Should you want to follow up on some suggestions sent to you, you are free to respond and ask them to elaborate. But here, the key is that you are in control. Unlike the phone, you can go “online” to communicate 24 hours a day and participate in a dialogue only when you want to.
You can put this in place by simply putting a message on your answering machine, letting people know where to log on for an update on the sick person’s condition. Or you can initiate it by sending a message to everyone in your computer phone book, letting people know you will be sending them regular updates. You can ask people not to respond, or you can say nothing and expect responses. You can ask people for their tefillos and Tehillim and let them know your loved one’s Hebrew name for a mishaberach (prayer for the ill). You can request visitors for the ill person or ask people to stay away. But on the computer, you only have to do it once and leave it in print to be read and reread instead of being asked, by phone, over and over and having to repeatedly explain yourself.
Whether you open a blog, e-mail your address book, or develop a site, your computer can become your personal secretary in a crisis. It will enable you to screen your calls, handle unwanted advice, redirect people and delete inappropriate comments without insulting anyone. Mostly, it will allow you, the well spouse or caregiver, to conserve your energy and deal with yourself in a more healthy fashion. It will enable you to deal with the situation to the best of your ability, without guilt imposed from the outside and without alienating anyone that you may need to find the time and energy to apologize to later. In a time of crisis as a well spouse, your computer may be the closest thing you may have that resembles a caregiver for you. Don’t be afraid to use it.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org